2010 NFL Week 1: Saints-Vikings Preview

The Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints take on the Minnesota Vikings in the 2010 NFL Season Opener (DB Malcolm Jenkins pictured)

The road to Super Bowl XLV (February 6 in Arlington, Texas) begins tonight as the 91st season of the National Football League kicks off. For the seventh consecutive season, the Super Bowl champion will open the slate as the champion New Orleans Saints host the Minnesota Vikings in a rematch of last year’s thrilling NFC Championship game (Sept. 9 at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC). 

The game will mark the official kickoff of America’s favorite sport including a concert by Grammy Winners and fireworks.  And trust me….all of the hoopla is definitely worth it as Week 1 of the NFL season is almost at the level of most United States’ holidays.  Football fans everywhere have waited months to quench their thirst for “real” NFL game action since the Super Bowl in February and now it is finally here.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (Thursday, NBC, 8:30 PM ET) 

Broadcast Team: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, and Andrea Kremer (Field Reporter)

The first game of the 2010 NFL Season features two of the NFL’s best passers, Saints QB Drew Brees and Vikings QB Brett Favre squaring off in a highly anticipated game. I am sure the “Who Dat” Nation” will pack the Superdome – expected crowd of 71,000 – to see the rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game.  In that game, the Saints’ won a hard fought battle 31-28 in overtime on a 40-yard game-winning field goal by kicker Garrett Hartley.   Though the Championship Game was an “Instant Classic”, the great ending helped you forget some earlier sloppy play.  There were 9 fumbles (4 lost) and 2 interceptions between both teams including five turnovers by the Vikings. 

But after an offseason of the Saints basking their Super Bowl glory and the Vikings finally learning that future Hall of Fame quarterback was indeed coming back, everything starts anew with the scoreboard reading 0-0.  Though both teams have had some injuries, additions, and defections since last January’s meeting, pretty much their nucleuses and plan of attack should remain the same.  You should expect a ton of scoring as both teams were the NFL’s Top-2 scoring teams last year.  Though the quarterbacks are the marquee players, I do believe the team that can run the ball more effectively and gets the most defensive pressure is going to win this game. 

The Vikings are more than just Favre (363-531, 4202 yards, 33 TDs, 7 INTs, and a rating of 107.2 – best QB rating of his career) but the 40-year old grandfather/passer may have to take on a larger load as injuries have been tough on the Vikes this offseason.  Their biggest offensive loss has to be Pro Bowl WR Sidney Rice, who is expected to miss at least 6 weeks with a hip injury.  However Vikings head coach Brad Childress still will have other offensive weapons at his disposal including Rookie of the Year explosive receiver Percy Harvin (migraines), Bernard Berrian, TE Visante Schiancoe, and latest-but-not-least RB Adrian Peterson (ran for 122 yards and three touchdowns in NFC Championship Game, but also lost two fumbles).  The Pro Bowl runner will no longer be sharing carries with Chester Taylor (Chicago Bears) so you can expect a 20+ carry night from Childress’ workhorse. Peterson has worked diligently on fumbling problems that plagued him last season — 20 total fumbles in 3 years including 7 in ’09 — so watch for tough runs behind Pro Bowl guard Steve Hutchinson in short yardage and goal-line situations. 

The main key for me, will be seeing if the Saints defense can continue to beat-up and rattle Favre –- named a captain for the 2010 season —  as they did in the two teams’ last meeting.  In that game, Favre was never sacked but he was constantly hit and thrown to the ground –- left bruised and had a balky ankle that needed offseason surgery.  The pressure caused the 3-time MVP to get happy feet and to throw passes quickly rather than taking sacks.  The biggest play of the game, was of course caused by pressure initiated from Saints’ defensive mastermind Gregg Williams.  With the game tied 28-28 late in the fourth quarter, Favre sensing pressure, attempted a risky cross-field pass that was intercepted by Saints DB Tracy Porter (19 seconds left in the game) caused the game to go to overtime and we know how it ended. After the game Favre, said “I’ve felt better…It was a physical game. A lot of hits. You win that and you sure feel a lot better.”   So you know, No. 4 will want to wipe that horrible loss from his mouth in the 2010 opener.  But you have to wonder how ready he will be after missing the majority of training camp (reported on August 18th) and only playing in a few series of preseason game action.

Williams’ defense, led by MLB Jonathan Vilma (groin) and DT Sedrick Ellis, must get the loud Bayou crowd going to get Favre (ankle) and his high flying offense out of sync. It will be interesting to see how the Saints’ defense fares as S Darren Sharper (PUP list w/ knee injury), DE Charles Grant (Miami), DE Bobby McCray (released) and others will not be with the unit.  Expect to see a lot of the New Orleans great secondary –- 3rd in the NFL in takeaways/giveaways (+11) — in press coverage with S Malcolm Jenkins, first rounder CB Patrick Robinson, SS Roman Harper, and Porter (knee) leading the way in stopping Favre’s multitude of weapons.

On offense the Saints, ranked No. 1 in the NFL with an average of 403.8 yards per game in 2009, need to continue their explosiveness from last year -– scored a franchise record 510 points.  Of course, the number one player that Vikings defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier will be targeting is Super Bowl XLIV MVP, Saints QB Drew Brees (2009 numbers: 363-514, 4388 yards, league-leading 34 TDs, 11INTs and a league-best 109.6 passer rating).  But the Saints have much more than just Brees on offense.  They have a physical offensive line led by Pro Bowl RT Jon Stinchcomb and probably the best offensive guard in the league, Jahri Evans.  Plus a ton of fantasy football dream skill players including WR Marques Colston (kidney), RB Pierre Thomas, TE Jeremy Shockey, and others.

I think the player that probably deserves most of the Vikings’ attention, other than Brees, is explosive jitterbug running back Reggie Bush.  He may not soon have his Heisman Trophy, but there is no doubting Bush’s game-breaking ability.  “He’s a guy who can change the game,” said Saints head coach Sean Payton.  Surely the Vikings’ veteran defense led by Pro Bowl corner Antoine Winfield and All-World pass rusher Jared Allen (14.5 sacks to lead the NFC) will look to rattle Brees before he can get the ball to his speedy receivers (Colston, Bush, Robert Meachem and others).  You can also expect Payton to most likely help Brees by using his two-headed backfield monster of Bush and Thomas against the Vikings D-line led by the Williams Wall (DT’s Pat and Kevin Williams). 

LV’s Pick:  This is a tough game, because both teams have a ton of weapons offensively and it is so early in the season.  In their overall regular season series, the Vikings lead by a count of 18-7.  But the Saints’ record at home since 2008 is 14-4 and Super Bowl Champs are 6-0 in the last six NFL openers.   The “X” factors of running the football and getting to the quarterback will be paramount in this match-up.  Though I expect a big game from a motivated Peterson, I still believe that Favre will be “rusty” after missing most of the preseason.  You can expect a high-scoring game, but the Saints, especially Payton and Brees, want to show the world that last year was not a “fluke”. The Saints home crowd will be rocking as their team opens their Super Bowl defense with a win -– Saints 31, Vikings 27

 

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and Sports Journey Network , who is also an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA)

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Super Bowl XLIV Review: The Cinderella Saints win their first championship by Lloyd Vance

The 2009 NFL Season culminated with the formerly hard luck New Orleans hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XLIV

From beginning to end the NFL’s 90th season titled “Own the Moment” seemed destined to have a climatic ending and Super Bowl XLIV followed that same pattern.  Somewhere pigs have got to be flying as the New Orleans Saints (16-3), formerly known as the “Aints”, put a big bow on the 2009 NFL Season with a remarkable 31-17 win over the heavily favored Indianapolis Colts (16-3) to bring home New Orleans’ first Super Bowl title..

In the “Year of the Quarterback”, Saints quarterback Drew Brees (32-39, 288 yards, 2  TDs, 0 Ints, and a 114.5 passer rating) willed his team to football’s ultimate prize by being cool and calm in the pocket.  Brees tied a Super Bowl record with 32 completions, the last a 2-yard slant to TE Jeremy Shockey for the winning points with 5:42 remaining. New Orleans became the just the second team to overcome a 10-point deficit to win the Super Bowl and in true storybook fashion, Brees was named the MVP of the game. 

Yes, the glass slipper fit Cinderella’s foot as Saints’ fans, who once wore paper bags over their heads in the early ‘90s, congregated in the French Quarter to celebrate.  The win brought overwhelming pride to a region that is still pulling itself together from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  But before the final brush strokes are finished on the 2009 NFL Season and New Orleans miraculous tale is told over and over again, Super Bowl XLIV must be rehashed.

In the most watched television show ever — 105.97 million viewers (most since the MASH finale in 1983 — young head coach Sean Payton’s team reached the mountain top by displaying “guts”.  After a slow first quarter in which the Colts powered by quarterback Peyton Manning (31-45, 333 yards, 1 TD, and one costly interception) appeared ready to run away with the game including a 96-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter tied the 1985 Bears (Super Bowl XX) for the longest in Super Bowl history. 

However the Saints showed gumption late in the second half and never looked back.  The Saints could have folded after failing to score deep in Colts territory on a 4th and goal play.  But Payton and Brees put their disappoint aside by leading the Saints on a long half ending drive that ended with Garrett Hartley’s 44-yard field goal.

Hartley’s field goal left the score at halftime at 10-6 in favor of the Colts and everyone anticipated that once “The Who” finished their halftime set, that Manning and the Colts would close the door on the Cinderella Saints.  But a play that will forever live in Super Bowl lore changed the course of this game.  With the Colts offense that quickly piled up 10 points in a dominant 1st quarter ready to get back on the field, Payton thumbed his nose at conventional wisdom. 

Payton gambled with an onside kick to open the second half. After Colts backup receiver Hank Baskett bobbled the ball and the biggest scrum to end all scrums, the Saints changed destiny by recovering the onside kick.  With that one play, momentum forever swung in the Saints favor.  Just six plays later, Saints RB Pierre Thomas slammed into the endzone to give the Saints a 13-10 lead.

During the span from the end of the 2nd quarter to Thomas’ score, the Saints held the ball for 26 straight plays and kept the Colts’ high-powered offense off the field for over 70 minutes including halftime.  During this timeframe, the Colts offense got cold and their defense became tired.  The biggest loss was that the miraculous return of feared Colts DE Dwight Freeney from a much-reported about ankle injury was basically over after halftime.  But the Colts, who have won an NFL record 12 games for 7 consecutive seasons, did not gently go into the night as Manning still had some fight left in him.

The 4-time NFL MVP responded by leading his team on a 10-play, 76 yard drive that ended with Colts RB Joseph Addai scoring on a tough 4-yard run as the Colts looked be back in control 17-13.  But the Colts’ fortunes after Addai’s score were all downhill from there.  First, NFC Championship game hero Hartley connected on his Super Bowl record 3rd field goal of 40 yards of more from a distance of 47 yards to cut the score to 17-16. 

Then the Colts thought that their ancient kicker Matt Stover could equal the youngster, but the 42-year old veteran wasn’t even close as he missed a 51-yard field goal attempt.  With Brees finding his rhythm, the Saints took advantage of the short field that Colts head  coach Jim Caldwell had handed them.  New Orleans marched 59 yards to regain a 23-17 lead on Shockey’s catch in traffic.

But Payton, who was hot all night, had one last gamble in his pocket.  The former Bill Parcels disciple seized the day by going for a two-point conversion to give the Saints a 7-point lead.  Another play, that many would point to later as one of the biggest plays of the game, Brees found receiver Lance Moore near the front corner of the endzone.  Initially, the play was ruled incomplete, but upon review it emerged that Moore had possession of the ball and extended it over the goal-line before a Colts’ player knocked it out of his hands.

But before the Gulf Region could celebrate their improbable victory, Manning wasn’t not finished with the team he grew-up rooting for.  Manning mixing the pass and the run led the Colts to New Orleans’ 31-yard line and it looked like overtime was soon in the offing.  But destiny as shown by some earlier successful plays was on the Saints side this night. 

New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracey Porter, who had picked off Vikings QB Brett Favre to end the NFC Championship Game, perfectly timed and read a Manning pass intended from receiver Reggie Wayne.  The former University of Indiana star stepped in front of Manning’s pass and raced 74 yards for a touchdown with 3:12 remaining in the game that basically ended 43 years of frustration for the formerly downtrodden Saints.  Not even a desperation drive by Manning in the game’s closing minutes that ended on a 4th down stop in the endzone could spoil the Saints party as Super Bowl Champions.

It was a storybook ending that no one saw coming when the 2009 NFL Season started.  But the New Orleans Saints –only 10 winning seasons since 1967 – could finally call themselves a Super Bowl champion by hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.  “There’s a lot of grit, a lot of determination in this team,” Payton said. “We fought so hard, and this is what makes us uniquely different.”

In true unbelievable fashion, the Saints, who lost their final three regular-season games, are the first team to take a three-game losing streak into the playoffs and win the Super Bowl. Enjoy your championship “Who Dat” nation, your classy organization deserves it as your team was rewarded for 43 years of fighting to establish themselves from a one-time expansion team. 

Definitely congratulations are in order to the entire Saints’ organization including  their players, coaches, front office, and staff.  Special kudos must also go to the architects of this team, head coach Sean Payton, GM Mickey Loomis and owner Tom Benson.  Your team did the NFL proud by winning with persistence, grit, determination and a little magic.

“You don’t take it for granted, these moments,” Payton said. “You want to slow it down and for our players, everyone else, our coaches, you just want to put it on rewind a little bit. It’s special, obviously.” 

Lloyd’s Leftovers

  • I thought the pre-game performances by Queen Latifah (sang America the Beautiful) and Carrie Underwood (national anthem) were solid.  The only disappoint may have been that Underwood had trouble with the last note.
  • Everyone always wants to know the commercials that I liked and didn’t like. I just found it amazing that in our tough economy, about 28 advertisers paid over $3 million per 30-second spot. My number one has to be the “Doritos: Put it Back” ad (I like that a kid is willing to protect his Mom and his snacks) followed closely by the Snickers “Betty White” spot. Some stinkers I thought were the Super Bowl shuffle commercial reprise with the ancient 1985 Chicago Bears and the unneeded Tim Tebow and his Mom political spot.
  • The 14 minutes of 1960’s icons “The Who” at halftime was more than enough and can they please get some next year that is not ready for social security – my vote is for the Foo Fighters. If anything, I would have rather watched more of Bill Cowher’s  informative interview with jailed former New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress.

Now that Super Bowl XLIV is over, I can take a quick break.  Like most people, my NFL season ends with the Super Bowl.  But the NFL Combine (later in February into March) and the NFL Draft (in April, with the St. Louis Rams currently on the clock) will be he before we know it.

Lloyd Vance is a Sr. NFL Writer for Taking It to the House and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA).